Continued from Second Stage: Anger.
“Aah!” The princess screamed as she slammed her fists against the elven monk. “I hate him!” She banged against his chest continuously as he stood in place, mouth agape as he stared down at her.
“What happened?” Slowly, the monk scratched his head. He had no idea how he came to be her servant, yet still wore brown. He cautiously wrapped his arms around her shoulders, careful not to crush the stiff cloth shoulder pads.
She gripped his shirt, and clumsy fingernails scraped his chest. “I hate him!”
The man closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he shoved her away and held her at arms’ reach. “What happened?” He kept his voice firm.
Her tearful eyes looked up at him, and it was her turn to become slack-jawed.
“What happened?” He repeated himself.
For long moments, she stared at him before her head dropped. “My brother told me to stop wearing gray and just go talk to Nikho.” She looked away, cheeks flaming.
The man pulled her close and hugged her. “That was cruel of him.” Absently, he stroked her hair, just for a moment before he realized and stopped, his hand rested on the back of her neck. “Just try not to let him get to you.” He paused and closed his eyes for a moment. “He’s probably feeling guilty for his own mourning or lack of it. Different people show their sadness differently.”
“Does he have to be an ass about it, though? No, nevermind. I’ll take my meals in my own rooms!” She stomped one silk-clad foot ineffectively against the stone below.
“You’ll have to tell Ehla about that. I don’t have a say in your dinners, Princess.” He smiled, a small and warm smile. “I’m sure she’ll sneak you chocolates and grapes.”
The princess was quiet. “Can we go to the kitchen now?”
“I do hear the chef is experimenting with new pastries…” He trailed off and smiled. “It’d almost be your imperial duty to ensure they’re safe for eating.”
She giggled a little, and he laughed as he gave her shoulders a squeeze before he let go and reached to open the closet door. He paused a moment, and when the princess opened her mouth, he put a finger to her lips as he stared at the door.
“… She’s clearly not fit to rule. It’s been half a year! If we don’t have a proper leader when the winter year hits, the entire empire will fall apart!” The voice was masculine, with a high, panicked pitch.
“If she is not ready, that will be fine. Her father was mourning the entirety of his first winter, and the empire did fine. She’s all alone now except for her brother-” The calm voice of the head priest, Nikho, spoke.
A third person interrupted him. “You should place the prince as the regent until she is ready, then. He’s finished mourning.”
Nikho cleared his throat. “No, he has not.”
“Really? You’re so sure?” The first spoke again.
“There are laws explaining why I can’t tell specifics. We are safe in the princess’s hands. She is intelligent and wise beyond her years. She half-raised her brother, and we all know mothers make the best rulers.” Nikho yawned. “Now, are you idiots done trying to indoctrinate me to your cause?”
The first voice gasped. “You dare!”
“I should ask you that. Leave me alone. I start my day five hours before you do yours, and don’t have the luxury of bored hours with which to plot treason.” He spat the final word.
“Nikho!” The third voice pleaded.
“That is enough, I said!” The man growled, a grating sound like an angry kitten, but so many times crueller.
The monk at the princess’s side covered the young woman’s mouth as she gasped in shock.
There was silence, followed by two sets of feet darting away rapidly.
“Idiots.” Nikho snorted before walking in the opposite direction. “Interrupting my after-dinner drinks for this drivel. Of all the…” His voice trailed off, muffled by distance and door.
The young elven monk kept his hand on the princess’s mouth until she pushed it away. Her grey eyes looked up at him. “Is… that what everyone thinks?”
“No.” He shook his head quickly, his answer just a moment too rapid.
“It is.” Her shoulders sagged. “I need to go to my room.” She pushed past him and opened the door, running off quickly through the narrow hall and dancing past two men that the monk recalled seeing lavishing praises on her only two hours before.
The elf ran a hand through his hair with a grunt. “Peeohchipel-lah bless…” He shook his head.